The Overlord series is a strange beast, and while I initially thought it was possibly just going to be another derivative isekai series it managed to hook me in with its background handling of morality within a power fantasy story. It's an odd fusion of fantasy action and comedy sprinkled with more morbid elements that slowly flesh out the main character's loss of humanity. So y'know, my type of jam.
The setup for Overlord is that in the future there's a MMORPG called YGGDRASIL which is having its servers shut down permanently. Our main character is a player that, along with over forty other friends, formed a successful guild called Ainz Ooal Gown. Our character, whose online avatar is named Momonga, has been the only player to actively care for their dungeon headquarters The Great Tomb of Nazarick as other players gradually left the game. In the last hours of the game before the shutdown, he's only joined by one other member who can't stay on for long, so Momonga is left to appreciate and mourn what they built.
Sad skeleton is sad.
Except, once the countdown hits zero, he's not booted off the server. Instead he seems to be stuck within the game, which may have now manifested itself into another fantasy world in a different reality. Stuck in the form of his avatar, he's incredibly powerful to the point of being a god. Which as it happens is exactly what every monster and guardian residing in Nazarick believes he is because he and his friends literally created them. Confronted with being worshipped by monsters that love and adore him, he decides to go with the flow and be their leader. It's actually very sweet too, because he decides that he loves all of them as they are essentially the children of his friends. Children that are monstrously powerful and willing to murder and torture people in his name (which boy do they ever), but still a very sweet family dynamic. With lots of murder. It's great.
Besides the overarching sub-plots of them trying to figure out where they are, how this happened, and how to proceed, there's a much more interesting element that's almost relegated to an afterthought most of the time. Every time Momonga displays any intense emotion (shock, anger, lust) he's bathed by a green light that nullifies the emotion.
Consequently, while makes more decisions earlier on in the series that may seem altruistic, the majority of his later decisions are done so with the sole motivation of protecting Nazerick and its denizens. He becomes more callous with human life in general, and as the series progresses he actively plays games of life and death with little regard to thousands and thousands of lives.
While the series may initially seem silly and plays into its fantasy and video game tropes while also hoisting some fan service here and there, it starts to play a subtle mind game. The power fantasy of becoming a god is played out early on as virtually nothing can threaten Momonga, but then as we're knee deep in fantasy world politics it becomes evident that he's becoming corrupted. The trick is though, it's also established and maintained that he truly loves and cares for all who serve him. This is constantly reinforced with all the wacky interactions and comedy scenes. So we're left to ask.....well, isn't it ok that the monsters are the heroes? And screw the boring humans?
I mean Demiurge is definitely skinning humans on the side to produce materials to make magic scrolls and he's a manipulative demon who delights in torturing people but like, he's really really really supportive of all the other guardians and totally loves and respects his boss. And I just think that's swell.
Momonga even sort of treats Nazerick like a business manager who's really good at keeping morale up. He compliments his monsters, he treats them well, and if they make a mistake he helps to educate them and wants them to better themselves. He even ask them for input, or in some cases, depends on it because he has no friggin clue what he's doing.
As the series progresses we get a lot of new characters, both in the new world and inside Nazerick. It doesn't really feel too cluttered though, and it paces itself decently in the rollout so we end up with what feels like a well planned and developed world. And hey, it means we get characters like the sinister penguin Eclair Ecleir Eicler
and the King cockroach Kyouhukou.
And I mean hey, we should feel blessed to have these characters, ok?
Overlord isn't going to hit everyone right because at times it can be so dead set in its inner logic and mechanics that it can almost feel pedantic. Still, after watching Wonder Woman 84, I feel grateful that someone is following their own storytelling logic and doing it well. Plus I think when you start balancing this many characters you really gotta stick to the storytelling rules you set up.
If you're in the mood for a very odd mash up of humor and violent fantasy action then I recommend giving this a shot. There's a bunch of stuff going on under the surface that helps to raise it above some of the other isekai style stories, and it may be a good intro to that genre if you haven't delved into it yet.